Effective Maintenance Management

Ever wonder why managing maintenance guys is so much like herding cats?

It doesn't have to be.

With the right mindset, you can make it an almost hands-off affair. And you don't need team-leaders, or a scheduler, or even an assistant to make it happen.

So Far, so Bad

Tom, our hero, was in the same boat.

He was a maintenance manager fighting the never-ending battle of keeping his guys busy and keeping the equipment running, all while fending off naysayers from every direction.

Even his own boss argued that maintenance was a bunch of overpaid, lolly-gagging do-nothings.

Worse yet, Tom knew they were right. Every time he walked through the plant he would run across a group of three or four of his guys standing around, apparently doing nothing.

At first he told himself they were discussing whatever job they were working on at the moment, which might've been true. Too many times though, he'd bust in only to find them talking about last nights ball game, or the new girl in shipping, or... You get the idea.

Tom would have to break them up, giving each something more meaningful to do, which of course wasn't that hard. Tom had a million things on his list that needed doing yesterday.

It Gets Worse

After a while, upper management decided they'd had enough. They were tired of the constant down-time and something needed to change, even if it meant Tom himself had to go.

Tom had to admit defeat, and that the job was just too big for one man alone. He couldn't ride shotgun over 16 guys spread across four shifts. But, that's what it was going to take to get everything done.

So, like most organizations, Tom had to add more people. Not to do any actual work, mind you. Just to make sure everybody else stayed busy.

He also had to create a new pay grade for a Team Leader position, now required on every shift. And one person on each shift would have to be selected to fill it.

Tom now had 12 maintenance guys, 4 team leaders, a planner, a parts person, and an assistant. His budget was bleeding, and things still didn't seem to be getting better.

His people were still fighting the same old fires, and downtime hadn't decreased a bit.

His department had also gone from fairly minimal to being a top-heavy behemoth with a life all its' own. He now had to deal with more political issues than ever before, his turnover rate had gone through the roof, and he didn't even know the names of some of his newer people.

What a mess. The situation had gone from bad to worse.

The Catalyst

After hearing for the 100th time how night shift didn't have a part they needed to fix a major breakdown, and listening to the usual round of blame-game and finger-pointing, Tom snapped.

He fired his assistant manager, proclaiming he could do the job better himself.

Within hours his planner and parts person quit. By the end of the week, all of his team leaders and most of the floor guys were gone too.

Tom had to act fast, so he decided to go back to the old way.

Between a quick round of new hires and filling the remaining positions with inductees from the production side of the plant, Tom was back up to full-force.

A weak force, mind you, since the new guys were new and the old hands all had visions of standing around like the previous crew did. He at least had bodies filling the positions.

It still wasn't working though. Every day he had to deal with the same old problems, but at least they were familiar problems.

In the meantime, Tom's boss was still glaring down on high.

The Realization

One day, Tom had to explain why yet another night shift breakdown had gone unrepaired. He was going to get to the bottom of it, and this wasn't going to happen anymore.

He came in early that morning to find out why. The night shift guy said simply that he didn't have the part. Tom walked the guy down to the shop so he could see for himself, and sure enough, the shelf was empty.

After shift change, Tom approached the day shift guys to find out why there was no part on the shelf. After all, it was up to them to make sure they had everything since they were day shift. Night shift couldn't very well order parts since nobody was around at night to order parts from.

The day guy said simply that he didn't know they were out of that part, so he didn't know to reorder. He even pointed out his check-out list hanging on the clipboard by the door. No one had signed those parts out, and he hadn't used one himself in a while, so he didn't know.

One of the night shift guys must've taken the parts out of stock without writing them down.

Tom suddenly realized the whole problem was that the people stocking parts weren't the same ones using parts.

As long as those two responsibilities remained split, there would always be a circle of blame. It would always wind up being the other guys fault.

The Change

Tom's solution was simple. He brought all his people to day shift.

With so many more people on days, he was able to divide the plant into areas. He assigned each person a different area.

He make it crystal clear that each person was responsible for their area.

If something broke, it was their problem.

If they needed a part, it was their problem.

If something broke at night, it was their problem!

In short, what Tom did was to ensure that when he thought about a particular area, he knew exactly who to question about it.

He made them accountable by making them solely responsible.

Along with that, Tom had to make the purchasing department accountable too. If maintenance needed something, it was their job to get it. He made them keenly aware that if one of his guys asked for something, it was as if he himself had asked.

And he expected his parts now. Not six weeks from now, after quotes from three vendors, shipping agreements with two carriers, and a credit arrangement. Now. If they couldn't do the job, he was prepared to show that he could.

As a final touch, Tom started making morning rounds. His goal was really just to touch base with his guys. No group meetings. Those are a waste of time if you really want to know what's going on.

But giving everyone a regular chance to speak their mind without 10 others listening works wonders. And a persons body language speaks volumes you won't get from a report on a computer screen.

The Result

Tom now gets to sleep through the night, almost every night. His phone doesn't ring at 2AM very often anymore either, since things don't break nearly as often as they used to.

His guy's mindset has changed from "that might break soon, but it's running now so it's not my problem" to one of "if I don't fix that now, I'll be back later tonight".

After a while, people get tired of having their dinner interrupted or being rolled out of bed. Tom sure did.

Keeping parts stocked is suddenly more important to his people too. If they don't have parts, they can't fix things. And if they can't fix things, their phones ring at the most inconvenient times.

And more importantly, they have to answer the hard questions on why something broke in the first place, or why they don't have the parts. There's no pushing the blame off on anyone else either. They have every means of taking care of things themselves.

And Tom doesn't have to deal with near the politics he used to.

All his guys are in plain sight, so everyone knows exactly what they're up to. Nobody assumes they aren't doing anything simply because they don't see them doing something.

If their equipment is running, not dripping oil all over the place, and not making weird noises, they must be doing something. Right?

And all of his people are segregated, so they don't have to compete with each other. They're so busy doing their own jobs, they're not nearly as worried about what the other guy's doing.

And really, if one guy is doing something a little better, it tends to be contagious. Others are more apt to adopt their practices, rather than trying to quietly throw a wrench into the first guys work.

And speaking of sabotage, which is exactly what that sort of thing is, it's virtually nonexistent. Anyone working outside their own area instantly appears out of place and becomes memorable.

Now, stuff just gets done.